12 Tips – What To Do If You’ve Missed Your Flight

I knew within seconds of arriving at the airport that I’d missed my flight, which was funny because I turned up two hours before I was due to fly.

Nevertheless, as I searched the departure-board looking for my flight from Milan to Manchester it rapidly dawned on me – I may have been ahead of time but that’s little use when you’re at the wrong airport.

However, all is not lost. For every flight I miss and every bus connection I get wrong, I learn. Here are 12 tips for what to do when you miss your flight.
But first…

What went wrong?

There really is no good reason why a person who travels as much as me should do something so painfully stupid, but the reality is that sometimes it happens – in the same way that people who regularly drive can run out of fuel, commuters can miss trains – frequent flyers can miss flights.

I arrived into Milan by air, flying with Ryanair (for cheapness, not pleasure). I also planned to return to the UK by reverse identical process. That meant catching a bus to the low-cost airport, Bergamo, which sits 1 hour outside the city.

Yet, the night before my flight I was enticed by the promise of an alternative means of getting to the airport. For just €11 instead of €5, there was an airport express train that took 30 minutes instead of 1 hour. That meant an extra half an hour in bed. Even better, the train station was walking distance (to catch the bus I needed to take a metro).

Sold, I went to sleep with my new plan in place.

I’ve missed flights before, often by a cat’s whisker, so these days I try to give myself plenty of time to get to the airport (previous lesson learned). So, three and a half-hours before my flight was due to leave at 1.30pm, I set off for the Airport Express. I missed the first train by seconds courtesy of a man who seemed to have never used a train ticket machine before. But, I quashed my impatience. I had time and although it was 30 minutes to the next train, it was a good opportunity to have a second cappuccino.

The train journey passed quick enough and I strolled into the terminal with the casual saunter of someone who has time to play with. I didn’t need to check-in – I had my boarding card pre-printed in my bag (a requirement when you fly with Ryanair unless you want to get stung with a €70 fee for Ryanair to issue it at the airport). And that’s when I realised. There was no flight to Manchester at 1.30pm. I checked again, this time looking for airline and destination. There were no Ryanair flights at all.

I sighed heavily with 100% confidence that I knew the source of my problem. I looked at my train ticket – I had taken the Malpensa Express, which surely meant I was at Malpensa Airport, not Bergamo where my flight was departing from. Turns out there are two low-cost airports in Milan.

And that’s when I went into ‘disaster recovery’ mode.

What to do when you miss your flight…or are about to

1. Don’t panic

missed flight
By: Jim Linwood

Keeping calm can be hard when you miss a flight or are about to, but freaking out: Will. Not. Help.

Whether you’ve been stuck in traffic, were working on the wrong time-zone (happened to my dad once), get stuck by Thanks-Giving traveller volumes getting through security in the USA (happened to me once), or turn up on the wrong day (also happened to me, though I was thankfully a day early), no amount of panicking is going to improve the situation.

What the circumstances really require is logical problem solving, a frame of mind best achieved when you’re calm and can direct all of your bright brain cells towards fixing the situation.

2. Have a reality check – are you really doomed?

Clearly, if you’re a day late or the flight has left the tarmac there is very little you can do to catch your scheduled flight  – skip ahead to point 3.

But sometimes a situation is recoverable. In my case, turning up at the wrong airport but with some time to spare, it was possible in theory that I could perform a quick inter-airport transfer or take a taxi and still catch my flight.

With that in mind, you need to shift quickly into information gathering mode. Inside 5-minutes try to establish.

Where you are: In my case, Malpensa.

Where you need to be: For me, Bergamo.

How far you need to travel: 70km – hey, when I screw up, I do it properly!

Can the distance be covered in the time available? With the skilled tuk-tuk drivers in India – perhaps. In mid-morning city traffic in Milan – unlikely.

And, vitally, what’s the cost of fixing the error by transport? When taxi drivers hear the delightful news that you’re a) in the wrong place and b) need to get somewhere else fast, angels sing in their wallets. I had to be in Bergamo within 1 hour to stand a chance of catching my flight, which was pushing it with 70km of city traffic to cover. The driver started with a price of €160. There was room for negotiation but I knew I would blow 10 minutes quibbling only to pay €100 or more to maybe catch the flight…it was clear enough to me. I really was doomed.

3. Early acceptance is the best tool

Because my flight from Bergamo had not actually left, I had to fight my natural instinct to focus all energy (and money) on rectifying that problem i.e. getting to Bergamo at any cost. The plus point was that even if travel hasn’t taught me to check my airport before travelling, I’m better at accepting a bad situation when it has happened. As much as I would have liked to have raced against the clock, the chance of making the flight was so unlikely I needed to accept the situation, recriminations and self-loathing parked until a more productive time, and I set to work on Plan B.

Likewise, if your flight has gone, it has gone. Even though anger may boil to the surface, taking your frustration out on the ground staff or spending half an hour pleading with them to do the impossible (even more tempting if the gate has closed but your flight hasn’t left), just burns time and energy. Move on.

4. Ask the ground staff about your options

I once missed a flight from New York to London (on that occasion, not my fault) and the lovely ground staff at Virgin Atlantic smiled, checked availability of the next flight and simply popped me on it, no harm done, no cost incurred. If you have a flexible ticket, simply catching the next flight can be your best option, so do ask.

When I turned up a day early for my flight from Japan to Malaysia, the ground staff would have been happy to put me on that day’s flight instead, except frugal me had saved $100 by booking a restrictive ticket, which meant I couldn’t change my flight.

With low-cost airlines, there is little to no likelihood of you being able to transfer your ticket. By all means, ask, just don’t be alarmed when they laugh out loud at your request.

5. See it as an opportunity

missed flight
I wouldn’t have been against a return to Asia if I didn’t have plans in the UK.

When you suddenly find yourself in a country with no flight-out, it can induce panic, but the reality is that you suddenly have more options than you did when you thought you were going to catch your scheduled flight.

Booking a new flight, a train, car-hire, a hotel, an adventure somewhere completely unrelated sprawl out before you and unless you have a strict itinerary (to be home for work, the kids or an event), it’s worth considering your options more broadly.

In my case, I had plans back in England for my sister’s 30th birthday party, so the next flight out to Thailand wasn’t a real option for me, which meant I was in the market for a new airline ticket for Manchester. But if I didn’t have plans, the late evening flight out to Asia excited me.

6. Check the departure boards

Although I found myself unwittingly in Malpensa without a ticket, I did have one thing going for me – I was at an airport, and rather than screeching out of arrivals at pace, it made sense to see what travel options were available to me without having to head across the city, incurring expense and chewing threw time as I did so. Malpensa may not be home to Europe’s biggest low-cost carrier, Ryanair, but judging from the departure boards, low-cost carriers Easyjet, Whizz and Fly Be use Malpensa…and, as luck would have it, there were two flights that day to Manchester – the next one leaving at 3.15pm.

The departure boards may not give you the news you want, but you should still stay-put until you complete the next two steps…

7. Find Wi-Fi

I wrote some time ago about how to turn up at the airport and take the next flight out and I was pleased I’d done that research because I suddenly (and unintentionally) found myself if that situation.

I already knew (from research and experience) that on-the-day tickets booked at the airport can be expensive. It can also be time-consuming dashing from airline counter to counter seeking quotes. That’s where the Internet proves it’s true value as your travel emergency friend.

The problem is that airport Wi-Fi often sucks (my experience booking a last-minute flight out of the Philippines taught me that).  When my third attempt at registering for the airport’s 15-minutes of free Wi-Fi failed, I gave up and switched on my data roaming.

It is a rare exception that I use the world’s most expensive method for surfing the web, but I had long strayed into the territory of “This is going to be one of those expensive travel days” and adding some data costs to the event was unlikely to make much difference. Conversely, burning an hour of time finding good, free Wi-Fi could have had a big impact on the availability and price of the next flight out.

And, if you’re no longer looking for a flight, the internet is the best source for comparing car hire, train routes, nearby hotel costs and accessing maps.

8. The search for a new ticket…or route…or hotel

missed flight
Staying in Milan a few extra nights wouldn’t have been so difficult!
By: Kieran Lynam

Even thought I was at the wrong airport, there were two other airports in Milan (Bergamo and Linate) and I set myself the task of finding the next cheapest flight out of the city, with one-eye on the handily located and timed Fly Be flight to Manchester I’d already spied.

Using Skyscanner (my favourite online flight checker), I searched for flights leaving that day from any airport in Milan to Manchester.  And: Bingo. The Fly Be flight to Manchester was available. Of course, the price, at €175 for a one-way ticket was painful compared to the €100 return-flight I’d already booked, but it was the best deal I was going to get on the day (the Skyscanner list of alternative flights starting at €250 one-way told me that). Desperate to secure the (non-deal) deal, I worked away on my tiny iPhone keyboard booking the next flight out.

It may be that the next available ticket is way over-priced or not affordable for your budget – I once had to buy an emergency flight from Toulouse airport in France returning to London, which cost €550 (no, I hadn’t missed a flight, the car I was travelling in had broken down and I had a flight to catch from the UK). In that case, check alternative means of transport and even alternative routes. A missed flight opens up options, which can come with different prices attached to them, so it’s worth exploring.  Staying in the location for a few extra days until you can find a cheaper flight combined with a late-room deal can be cheaper (if your schedule permits – no starving cats or kids at home).

About budget: everybody travels with different budgets and while one person might book an extra ticket with little to no thought to the cost, for some, a couple of hundred euros can leave a significant dent in your funds. However, try not to let it cloud your decision-making. While the expenditure may pinch in the short run, a couple of weeks of more cautious spending (eating ramen!) can get you back on track soon enough. For example, a €200 unexpected spend translates to €6 that you need to save per day for a month to keep to your original budget. Within months the outlay should feel little more than an annoyance in the past.

9. Taking the flight – do everything early

These days, the differences between airlines can be quite vast from what you need to do pre-boarding (print your boarding pass with Ryanair to luggage allowance (1 bag only on some airlines and 2 on others)). So, with that in mind, it’s best to check-in for your new flight early, to give you time to resolve any baggage or boarding card issues. Thankfully, Fly Be (a One-World partner) is an upgrade from Ryanair, so things were fine in my case.

10. Relax

missed flight
By: Adam Selwood

It’s easy to let one error cloud the rest of your day, but what is done is done. My extra flight was a cost I could have lived without, but ultimately it was a necessary expense to fix my mistake. With my new boarding card firmly clutched in my hand, and a seat in direct view of the departure screens (nobody wants to miss two flights in one day), I sat down for my final pasta lunch in Italy, determined to enjoy what remained of my day.

11. Check your insurance policy

Sadly, my insurance policy does not include a clause for “Flights missed owing to stupidity” but if you missed your flight and it wasn’t your fault, you may be able to recoup some of your expenses. I met a fellow traveller when I was in Japan who missed his flight due to a person jumping in front of his train bound for the airport. With a note confirming the incident from the train company, he was able to use his travel insurance for financial assistance.

12. Learn from your (my!) mistake

This is perhaps the hardest part for me. While I don’t miss flight regularly (relative to how many I take!), it has happened a handful of times. This was the first occasion when it was 100% my fault and I hope for the benefit of my travel budget that I learn my lesson…time will tell. In the meantime, I at least to get to add some new airmiles to my One World account!

Useful Resources

If you need to fix the problem of your missed flight, here are some of my favourite tried (and over tested at airports) travel booking sites.

Planes, Trains and Automobiles

Skyscanner – my all time favourite flight search site.

TripAdvisor Flight Search – if you’re not in the mood for getting to grips with a new travel research website (why would you be – this day is already stressful enough), get onto TripAdvisor where you can search across hundreds of airlines through several flight search companies. All in one click.

GoEuro – because sometimes going by land might be cheaper or quicker. Flight search also available.

RentalCars.com – my go-to car rental site because it’s a price comparison site. Don’t add to your stress by doing a price check on each car rental brand’s website. Just check once, here.

Amtrak – for the US, but beware as last minute tickets can be as pricey as a flight.

Rome2Rio – if you’re trying to figure out any route and it’s associated transport links, this has got to be the best website around

Sleeping

Priceline – great for their Express Deals for excellent last minute deals – I’ve written about it here)

Agoda – my favourite site when I’m in Asia

Hostelworld – if you’re already pushing your budget, consider a hotel – many have private room and cheap beer!

Booking.com and Expedia – two more great hotel booking sites

Booking.com – also has apartment rentals if you want something a bit more homey than a hotel

Trip Advisor (in case you want to check the quality of your hotel before you book – you know, not wanting to make a bad day worse and all that).

Have you ever missed a flight? Share your horror story or tips below.

Want more travel tips? You might like some of my other posts…

How to Make A Travel Insurance Claim

10 Times You’ll Realise the Importance of Travel Insurance

What Does Travel Insurance Include (And What’s Excluded)

What To Do When You Get Dengue Fever When You Travel

Dynamic Pricing – Flight Pricing’s Biggest Scam

10 Times Travel Made Me Sick

Are You Ready To Get Robbed? 12 Holiday Safety Tips

 

Main image: Kitty Terwolbeck

34 thoughts on “12 Tips – What To Do If You’ve Missed Your Flight”

  1. I have just came across this post after just randomly typing in why do you feel like…. After missing your flight as I missed my flight from Dublin to Bristol yesterday, I had arrived 2 hours early like I usually do, had a sandwich and smoked three cigarettes as I had no baggage to check in, I looked at the screen and saw the Bristol flight which was delayed by 15 mins not a drama, so I joined the queue, on reaching the check-in desk I was told that I was in the wrong queue and that there was another Dublin to Bristol flight, as I sprinted to the proper gate my plane was still there but the desk was closed ?, my mistake was I should have remembered my flight number which I wasn’t able to access to remind myself as I couldn’t get WiFi at that part of the airport and no data on my phone as it was calls and text sim only, I decided to head back to Belfast, your blog has cheered me up but still feel like…. Because of my ignorance.

    Reply
    • Oh no! That sucks and I have done something similar, nearly missing my flight because I was standing to board in the wrong queue. On the plus side, you’re not alone. Plenty of people have done it. Lesson learned? :/

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  2. I’m with you when you said that it’s your first time to miss a flight and you’ve already learned from your mistake. I have missed a flight last month too and it has been so much of a hassle for me. Now that I’m going to Wisconsin this week, I’m gonna make sure that I will do my best to be on time. I will organize all my transportation services to the airport beforehand.

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  3. Thanks for sharing this article. It is very informative and good to know that there are always alternatives. Missing your flight is not the end of the world!

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  4. Wow! Reading this made me feel good. I used to laugh at people who missed their trains/Flights but happened to me today. Heavy rains combined with Mumbai traffic. I could not travel 12 miles in 2 hours!!

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  5. I have to thank you so much for this post. I have just missed my flight. I had one minute spare to check in and was feeling very smug for getting through check in on time. However when I saw passport control my heart sank. I tried to get a staff member to help me rush through but she said she couldn’t and I felt too rude to barge in. If I’d known my politeness was going to cost me £430 I would have pushed through no questions asked bit you live and you learn. Thank you so much for sharing, it’s great to see and read other responses to know it’s not just me cutting things fine

    Reply
    • Hi Naomi, sorry to hear about your missed flight – as they say, we have 20:20 vision in hindsight. So sorry it was an expensive experience. But equally happy that my post made you feel a bit better knowing you are not the only one. Better luck with your next flight!

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  6. Hello Jo
    I found your comments very informative & interesting.. I very recently missed a flight from Paris because the queue to go through the passport check was very very long – followed by security check which all held me up. I got to the gate but it had closed. Stayed night in the terminal, then got reticketed next day for about 940 euros. 24 hours later by the time I got home to NZ, I felt pretty awful. My travel insurance firm asked for proof of when I checked in at CDG airport Paris. I emailed Cathay Pacific who said they have a record only if you check in AND catch the plane…Do you or any readers have any suggestions, please? Thanks. Monica

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    • Hi Monica, that sucks! I’ve missed a flight because of this in the past but I only have a small fee to take the next flight so didn’t bother to challenge. Is there any other way of proving that you were at the airport when you were. For example, did you take any photos at the airport – these usually have a timestamp. Also, an Uber receipt would probably record the time. I don’t know about in New Zealand but reaching into my lawyer tool bag, as citizens in the UK we are able to swear an affidavit – sworn testimony if you like, which is committed to paper, which basically says I was at the airport at this time and my word is my evidence. If you think about it, it’s no different than if you were giving testimony on a stand. You can’t prove that you watched a bank robbery at a particular time you can stand up in court and say it. Your insurance company may not accept this kind of evidence but I definitely have the conversation with them. I’m also surprised that Cathy doesn’t record that data of check-in time. I’d also try asking again – asking three different people can often result in three different answers. Good luck!

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  7. Same situation as you. Frequent flyer. Even joked with my usual airport driver about whether he’s ever had a passenger go to the wrong airport while on the way. The issue was that I always print out my boarding pass but with norwegian, they did not allow that so I had no way to check other than email buried in my inbox. I was convinced it was JFK when it was Newark International. My wife and daughter were with me on our way from NYC to Barcelona. Long story, we tried as heck to rush to Newark but traffic made us miss the gate by 10 min. Norwegian gave us zero credit for the ticket. They give you up to flight time to get some ridiculousness credit towards the next flight. The next flight was some insane price more expensive than a brand new tickrt on another carrier. Would have cost me $4k for 3 tickets to rebook on norwegian. I ended up buying 3 tickets for the next day on Turkish air for $2700. Painful painful lesson. I am a penny pincher and this made me physically ill.

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    • Oh, ow! That is a painful experience And I suspect it would make even non-penny pinchers feel physically ill. This year, even after writing this post, I did the whole go to the wrong airport thing in Bangkok. Fortunately, I just about had enough time and a crazy enough taxi driver who was prepared to try and get me to my destination for my flight. My point: it is so easily done. I hope that since a bit of time has passed you have now become able to focus on the story element of your experience rather than the financial impact.

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  8. Best missed flight blog list ever… thanks!
    I missed one few days ago after over a decade of flying very frequently & 100% my fault. I got too comfortable, so started to take for granted the ‘leave home with enough TIME in between for anything can happen!’. i.e. Taxi was late, little traffic delay, missed bag drop cut off by 10mins… all I could think was, well at least I enjoyed my sleep in, at that point, realised also I hadn’t renewed my insurance by about 4 days ago… Basically, now I have to adopt the behaviour of someone who has never flown before to teach me how to behave & yes, I did enjoy my extra 18hrs delay, got my emails cleared out & got to stay in an airport hotel for the 1st time ever because I wanted to sleep in the airport to avoid missing the flight (yep, now I’m spooked!), not bad…
    Thanks again for the wonderful read 🙂

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    • Ha ha ha ha – best missed flight blog list response 🙂 I feel your pain in every moment of this description. These days I have become that person who heads to the airport 4 hours before – just n case it’s the wrong airport, terminal, day, flight, gate, destination, forgotten passport. I’m still frequently the last on the plane but we can’t be perfect, can we! Glad you managed to make a bad day not so bad. And, lesson learned 🙂

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  9. Thanks for posting this Jo, even though I’m reading it 4 years later! I just missed my flight today to Athens purely because I just read the time wrong on my boarding pass – so stupid! I never make mistakes like this I was so angry with myself. I sprinted to the gate but they wouldn’t let me on even though it turns out the flight was held at the gate for an hour! I couldn’t believe it.

    I’m still beating myself up about it so reading your article was really helpful- you’re right, you do have to look at the glass half full and just accept what has happened. I’m going to try and get another flight tomorrow morning and I’m staying in a hotel tonight. I met a really lovely lady at the bar who was having a bit of a hard time too – so there’s your silver lining!

    Anyway, thanks again!

    Emma

    Reply
    • Hi Emma, that’s the attitude! It’s so easy to let these mistakes drag us down. And we’re our own worst critic. But it seems like you made the best out of a bad situation. And from an entirely selfish point of view, it’s always nice to hear that I’m not the only one out there making these kinds of mistakes ;p

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  10. I missed my flight. Iam in Copenhagen and have limited budget. but.. Its sunshine, I boked another and had even some time to explore the city… its actually really nice place. Sometimes I think missing the flight is not such a bad thing. well, money, Yes, they are numbers, but experience of new places is what life’s aboute ….. Keep it calm and feel the life, numbers will be back. Moments on the other hand may never return.. 🙂

    Reply
    • Hi Dima, that’s the attitude I like! Boy it sucks missing a flight, particularly in the wallet but well done for making the most of it. Hey, if you’re going to throw down a chunk of change to fix your mistake, you might as well get a nice experience from it. It’s also heartening for me to know that I’m not the only flight-misser out there 🙂

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  11. Jo, This is a great website which I found searching for information due to my post depression flight miss folly from yesterday. I travel a great deal for work and know my way around an itinerary, but I misread the departure time and thought we had a leisurely morning ahead of us, and that we didn’t have to be at the Rome airport until that afternoon. What we had written down was the departure time for our connection at JFK. Ugh! On the bright side, we now have two extra days in Rome, although not cheap, the lesson will stay with us forever. Happy New Year!

    Reply
    • Oh, no Ernesto. I feel your pain. However, as expensive as it might be, an extra 2 nights in Rome is not the worst punishment. It’s amazing how an experience like this will focus your mind for your next trip! Happy travels and a great New Year to you too!

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  12. I’ve missed one today because I left my wallet (w/ ID, money, debit card) at home and they could have let me through but there were too many people. I did come only 1 1/2 early and I needed more time since I waited in a wrong line for coupe minutes, then asked when to go (didnt wait for a whole line) and I had 1 hour left and went to ask what to cause i dont have my ID. I was referred to many places. And it was too late. But i did have liquids, so I didnt have money to pay for baggage, so I had to make home anyways. I would hardly made it even w ID…

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    • Urgh, it absolutely sucks missing a flight, Deimante, so I have every sympathy with your experience. Hope you managed to take your trip eventually and it wasn’t too expensive a mistake!

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  13. Thanks for your blog. I missed my flight tonight as I was a bit too relaxed with time. It’s a painful lesson but next time I’ll be better prepared. Thanks for helping me laugh about it 🙂

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    • Julia, you’ve no idea how good it makes me feel to hear others miss their flights too! Although obviously it’s never a good thing. I’ve actually started to become much more diligent. So much so even my dad has commented on it (he is usually my ‘taxi’ to the airport when I’m in the UK).

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  14. Ok, so for everybody reading this to feel better, I just came back from Thailand and am looking for any edge to get some compensation for the £510 I just had to pay when I missed my flight back. I paid £460 for an original return ticket. My insurance say they will only pay for “missed departure” in leaving and not coming back to the UK. Gutted. But on the plus side Thailand was amazing!

    Reply
    • Sarah – ouch! But thanks for sharing. Missing flights it painful but there’s a small part in all/most of us that feels better knowing we’re not the only ones 🙂

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    • Sarah, it’s always nice to know there are other people out there doing the same foolish things 🙂 Hope everything was resolved for you! Feel free to share any other tips you learned from your experience!

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  15. I have had a couple of close misses, including getting on the wrong train at Brasov in Romania and only realising eight hours into my journey. (In my defence, it was late at night, and Romanian trains suck) By the time I realised my mistake and got off the train, it was midnight, but I still had five hours before my early flight to Belgium. Alas there were no trains scheduled to depart from” random train station in the sticks X” to Cluj-Napoca airport that would get me there in less than five hours – so I had to pay for the two-hour taxi ride all the way to the airport. I must have made the taxi driver’s day – I doubt he was expecting a lucrative job at that time of day…It cost me €60, so I considered myself very lucky that I was in such a cheap country; a similar error in Western Europe would have cost quadruple that easily.

    Just found your blog today Jo – nice work!

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    • I’m just trying to remember if I ever got on the wrong train/bus like that. It feels exactly like the kind of thing I’d do, but my brain appears to have wiped any such bad experience from my memory 🙂 I’ve definitely missed a lot of trains, buses and flights. Ouch on the €60 taxi ride, though not bad for a two hour journey. That’s one of the reasons I like Latin America so much. Errors aren’t so expensive. That said, it’s the pricey mistakes that teach us the stronger lessons. Next time I flew to Italy, I double and triple checked everything. Wonder how long it will last?!

      Glad you like the blog. Happy travels.

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    • Thanks, globalmouse. Of course, I plan these mis-haps purely to generate interesting content for my blog and demonstrate the reality that long-term travel isn’t always rainbows and butterflies ;p

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